When it dropped its first season last summer, Hulu's Love, Victor was a series that seemed to be in constant conversation with the movie that spawned it, the teen gay romance Love, Simon. In several key ways it was a different work from its predecessor, portraying a more complicated coming out process in a less lily white world — its title character, played by Michael Cimino (no, not that one), is half-Puerto Rican and half-Colombian. It did all this while keeping its lead character in literal contact with Simon Spier, via a text-messaging framing device that was part-Felicity and totally in keeping with Love, Simon's "Creek Secrets" vibe.
The first season followed Victor through his decision to come out. Unlike Simon in the movie, Victor didn't have, as he himself lamented, "the world's most accepting parents and the world's most supportive friends." Victor was a new kid in a new school with parents who were on their way to breaking up and — taking up much of Season 1's drama — a girlfriend, Mia (Rachel Hilson), who didn't deserve to have the rug pulled out from under her when Victor fell for Benji (George Sear), his cute co-worker at the coffee shop. At the end of the season, Mia caught Victor and Benji making out, and Victor returned home determined to tell his family the truth … only to be faced with the news that his parents were separating. Season 2 picks up at exactly that moment, and to the show's credit it doesn't take the sitcommy out that many lesser shows might have, and have Victor stay in the closet because things are complicated enough with this separation news. We get a head-fake toward that outcome before Victor turns toe and tells his whole family he's gay. Which is met with awkward silence from his mom and dad. Unlike Simon, Victor's coming out is not the fairy tale; it's the messy reality.
Love, Victor's second season is constantly chasing this idea of complicating the idyllic fantasy of the gay coming-of-age story, which says a lot about how far gay coming-of-age stories have come in 2021. We now expect a teen unveiling his smoking hot boyfriend to the school to be a celebratory event. Victor, however, is reluctant — the voice of his disapproving mother echoing in the back of his head. His basketball teammates don't react the way he'd like them to, either. And then there's Mia, who no longer knows how to be around her friends after being so humiliated.
Ideally each of these complications would make for a satisfying season, but there's something holding Love, Victor back, and increasingly it seems that problem is Victor himself. As a character, his dominant trait is that he's … tentative. He's scared to declare himself on the first day of school, he's wracked by uncertainty and self-doubt, and his consistent reaction to his parents being crappy or his classmates being jerks is to look sad and back away. This kind of experience is real, by the way. As a former gay teenager of tentative experience, I can recognize a lot in Victor. But that seems to be the only note the show is comfortable playing for him, and as a viewer, one ends up internally screaming for him to do something — anything.
It doesn't help that after Victor comes out to his family, the show decides to fast-forward past the summer months so they can get back to the school year. I can't imagine a more fraught and interesting summer than the one right after you come out of the closet to your friends and family and also have the world's cutest teen barista as your boyfriend. Had the show gone there, it might have allowed Victor to get truly messy. Because, yes, teenagers can be tentative and scared and meek, but those very same teens can also be crazy with hormones and obsessions and impulses and bad decisions, and maybe letting Victor wild out, even in his meek little way, would have given him new dimension in this second season.
It feels churlish to criticize Love, Victor for its bland protagonist because the show is so unfailingly well-meaning. In its second season in particular, that becomes its defining characteristic. It has a big heart, and in its best moments, that means it's generous towards its characters: refusing to sweep Mia to the side now that she's no longer Victor's girlfriend; giving Seth Cohen-y neighbor kid Felix (Anthony Turpel) an empathetic storyline about trying to help his manic-depressive mother; even giving preening jackass antagonist Andrew (Mason Gooding) some redeeming qualities. Victor's parents (James Martinez and the great Ana Ortiz) once again shoulder much of the show's emotional load, and they're great as their characters struggle in their own ways to get right with their gay son.
But for as much depth as the show's ensemble characters get, Victor himself gets precious little. Simply not being as perfect as Simon Spier isn't enough. Two seasons in, we need more reasons to love Victor for who he is — not who he isn't.
All ten Season 2 episodes of Love, Victor drop on Hulu Friday, June 11th.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.